Dhe decision to buy a new business jet is an emotional affair. For fleet operators, the purchase of one or more jets means a strategic decision combined with a high investment. “For many of our private customers, on the other hand, a jet is the most expensive purchase in their life,” says Daniel R. Bachmann, Corporate Communications Manager at Embraer. We are visiting Melbourne, Florida, where the Brazilian manufacturer operates its most important branch in the USA: Customer contacts, development and final assembly of business jets are united in the south of the Kennedy Space Center.
900 employees, and the trend is rising
If you reduce the location to facts and figures, the picture is impressive. More than 360 business jets worth over $ 3 billion have left the factory since it opened in 2011, starting with the first Phenom 100 made in the United States. Today, Melbourne employs 900 people, including 200 engineers, hand in hand with their colleagues in São José dos Campos, Brazil, continuously improve and develop the aircraft. They all ensure that countless individual parts eventually become Embraer brand business jets. Phenom 100EV and 300E are produced exclusively in Florida, while the larger models, Praetor 500 and 600 and their predecessors Legacy 450 and 500, are also produced in Brazil, depending on the capacities. The construction of the top model Lineage 1000E and the Legacy 650E are reserved for the plant in Brazil. The property encompasses 27 hectares, and the building area comprises 41,800 square meters. “This location continues to give us room to grow,” says Bachmann.
Niemeyer style building
But there is still the thing with the emotions that is reflected in the buildings. These are built in the style of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – minimalist and noble at the same time. Daylight floods the rooms through large windows. Applications made of wood and aluminum meet, granite covers the floor. The environment has to be right, because this is where ideas turn into decisions worth millions, which finally find their way on paper in the form of signatures.
In 2011 Embraer Executive Jets moved into its new premises in the Sunshine State, literally at that time it was built on a green meadow and realized with sustainable building materials and methods. The Melbourne location was chosen in 2008 after several options had been examined. “We wanted to be closer to the customer. We are easy to reach here and can offer demo flights that would take several hours to arrive in Brazil. ”Orlando Melbourne International Airport can be reached by airline and has seen growth in business aviation. Florida also scores with economic strength. “If it were a separate country, Florida would be in 16th place worldwide with its economic output.” The region is rich in aviation talent: Around a third of the workforce came from NASA, including many engineers. 2011 was the year the last space shuttle took off at the Kennedy Space Center. Today the region sees itself on the upswing again. “We are part of the ‘Space Coast Renaissance'”, says Bachmann. With Northrop Grumman, Embraer has a prominent neighbor at the airfield.
Quality is the key
For visitors, the journey into the world of Embraer begins in the showroom. In addition to models of all Embraer Business Jets, three original-sized cabin mockups are built: from Phenom 100EV and 300E as well as a Praetor 500. Touching and test sitting are desired and allowed – so customers can convince themselves of the feeling of space of the different sized patterns when making their purchase. Everything is uncompromisingly close to the original, even the avionics from Collins Aerospace in the cockpit of the Praetor 500 are real. “We tried replicas, but it didn’t look authentic. After all, the customer should know what quality awaits him, ”says Bachmann. During our tour of the cabins, he describes the differences between the jets. A little more headroom here, particularly sophisticated lighting there or the NICE entertainment system from Lufthansa Technik. Every little detail is worth talking about. Depending on the model, customers can choose between different cabin layouts with or without galley. Granite floors can also be found in the jets, for example in the entrance area, where it gets wet when getting in and out of rain or snow. Too heavy? No. The layer is 2.5 millimeters thin, looks classy and is easy to care for. Different seats with different leather invite you to try them out. Since the takeover of the California-based company Aero Seating Technologies – now with the addition of Embraer before the name – this division has also been integrated in-house in 2016.
Our trip takes us up the stairs to the design studios for the smaller and larger jets. The design team calls the larger of the two rooms “Room of emotional compromises”, in which customers choose the interior and the paintwork of their new Praetor, Legacy or Lineage. A clear case: emotions rule here. While the equipment of fleet operators is usually determined by the brand appearance, private customers stay here longer or need time to think about coming back later.
We are leaving the customer area for now. In 2014 Embraer opened a new Center of Excellence, where engineers develop new technologies and maintain and improve existing systems: avionics updates, fuel systems, drives, interiors and much more. One of the most important achievements is fly-by-wire technology, which is now the fourth generation to fly in the Praetor jets. It continues to the practical side of product development. HALT stands for “Highly Accelerated Life Testing”. Individual components are tested for durability: 30 years in use, compressed to a few weeks.
Drying exercise for the cabin layout
How do fresh ideas actually get into the series production of a business jet? The mock-up lab is an important step on this path. “Here we simulate flights with test persons,” explains Daniel Bachmann. Every cabin equipment or new seat must pass its first test in a mockup on the floor. The goal of many changes to the interior is to reduce the number of individual parts. It is also about making the cabin as quiet as possible through the skillful use of insulation materials. “Seats with perforated leather absorb the sound, but are not as visually appealing,” says Daniel of one of the approaches. 3-D printers help with prototype construction.
Embraer’s heart beats in Brazil
Every Embraer business jet is born in the main plant in São José dos Campos, where the fuselage and wings are manufactured. Then the paths separate: Praetor 500 and 600 and their predecessors Legacy 450 and 500 arrive in Florida by air; “Green”, ie primed and without a finish. Phenom 100EV and 300E, on the other hand, make their first long journey as wing and fuselage sections in wooden boxes, protected from moisture, by sea before the last few miles on the road to Melbourne. The goal: the production hall, where a number of jets are approaching their maiden flight at various stages of manufacture. 600 people work here in two shifts, five days a week. Manual work meets automation with the aim of delivering a perfect product to the customer. “People are also involved where we use robots,” says Bachmann. For example in the paint shop, where human-controlled devices apply the paint to a new aircraft in four to five days. Or several work steps beforehand when robots bring the wings together with the fuselage with millimeter precision. This, says Bachmann, is Embraer’s first digital factory with exact coordination between the international locations in the USA, Brazil and Portugal. The unpainted aircraft provide an insight into their structure: With a focus on weight and performance, composite parts have found their way into the larger jets, for example in the tail or at the wing tips. A move away from metal construction is not an issue, because if it is damaged, the classic material is easier to repair. Wherever possible, Embraer pays attention to sustainability in production. For example, other companies receive the leather waste instead of throwing away the material.
Delivery after two months
Production is planned for the end of 2020. Flexible elements are also included in the planning. “To be able to react to unforeseen requests, we build some aircraft with clever configurations. These have a typical equipment and are available at short notice because they can be personalized quickly, ”explains Daniel during our tour. If you choose a Phenom 100 or 300 and need it as quickly as possible, you can often receive your new jet in less than a month or two. Large orders from fleet operators ensure a basic load in production. At the end there are the test flights: Each jet runs a program lasting several hours before it goes to the customer.
The handover takes three days
Taking over a business jet is a solemn act each time for customers, but also for the company. “Handing over is never routine,” reports Daniel Bachmann. For this event, the prospective aircraft owners usually stay in Melbourne for three days, often with their family. There is thorough instruction, every aircraft is inspected and approved, and of course payment is made. The financial side, says Bachmann, is the customer’s responsibility: some finance the purchase from their own funds, others finance through a bank. Embraer itself keeps out of financing and leasing. There is a banquet in the in-house restaurant. Finally, the handover follows: in a room, the front wall of which is decorated with a picture of the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, the rear wall is pushed aside and gives a view of the new Embraer behind it. They are moments of emotion.